The 2022 federal election, although portrayed as a battle between the Daggy Dad (Scott Morrison) and the State Daddy (Anthony Albanese), was unquestionably about women. And, boy, did they make their intentions clear at the ballot box.
Women's anger had been bubbling beneath the surface for some time, but it all came to a head in 2021. Shocked by a torrent of allegations, lack of accountability, and complete government inaction and even derision, women, victim-survivors, and allies marched around Australia to demand better. Yet we were dismissed by a callous prime minister who argued we should be grateful that we weren't met with bullets. But we did not back down - a roaring fire of anger cannot be extinguished so easily. It smoulders until the time is right to leap back into action.
While issues of women's safety and gender equality made the headlines for the past year, they were surprisingly sidelined during the election campaign. The ALP and Greens centred "care" at the heart of their campaigns, and the "Voices Of" independents pushed for real progress on gender equality, yet the Coalition remained notably quiet on these issues. As former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop astutely noted on election night, "women did not see their concerns and interests reflected in a party led by Scott Morrison in coalition with Barnaby Joyce," a party for the boys with a longstanding "woman problem". Morrison did little to change this perception. Rather than campaign on women's issues, Morrison chose to hyperfocus on the swinging male voter with his bulldozer leadership masculinity and a blokey campaign platform. The Coalition brought a hi-vis vest and a hard-hat to an unequivocally gendered election and lost.
Albanese, on the other hand, successfully mobilised a more caring form of leadership masculinity and a platform designed to appeal to women voters. Unlike Morrison, he listened to the anger expressed by women around Australia and campaigned on the care economy, vowing to improve and increase access to aged care, childcare and healthcare. The ALP also promised to close the gender pay gap, implement all 55 recommendations from the Respect@Work report and to provide leadership and funding to tackle domestic, family and sexual violence. You wouldn't know it, however, if you watched any of the leadership debates or consumed any of the press coverage, with many in the media circus preferring gaffes and gotchas to policy comparisons and analyses.
Much has been said about this "sub-par journalism", but the media truly failed in its coverage of those outside the two major parties. While the Greens were overlooked almost entirely, the Independents (grouped by the media as the "teals") were regularly undermined or framed as impediments to the careers of "great men". The Murdoch press were particularly hostile, framing them as "fake independents" controlled by "puppet-master" Simon Holmes à Court, who helped raise funds for independents as the founder of Climate 200, and thereby revealing their inability to imagine women succeeding in their own right. Or they were viewed as "threats" to our national security and even democracy, while their platforms of gender equality, climate action and anti-corruption were portrayed as "luxury issues." Australians, however, showed that they thought otherwise at the ballot box.
This election has delivered the most progressive and diverse Parliament in our country's history. The Liberals have been punished for their inaction on climate change, gender equality, and corruption as well as their lurch to the right and, as such, will occupy the lowest proportion of seats since they first ran in 1946. Replacing them are a mix of independent, Labor and Greens candidates, most of whom are women. At the time of writing, it looks likely that there will be 59 women in the House of Representatives, up from 48 in 2019, while the Senate will see gender parity.
Anthony Albanese must cultivate leadership traits stereotypically considered 'feminine': collaboration, mediation, communication, and negotiation.
Previously incumbent pale stale male Liberals have also been replaced by culturally and linguistically diverse candidates - mostly women - while Dai Le beat Labor's Kristina Keneally in the previously safe seat of Fowler, providing the ALP with a useful lesson of their own: they can no longer parachute affluent white candidates (over competent local ones) into culturally diverse electorates. We've seen an increase as well of Indigenous MPs and senators around the country. Though a vast improvement, as Tim Soutphommasane notes, we still have a long way to go to be truly representative of our society. But it's a start.
These results show an overwhelming rejection of "politics as usual", especially by women voters. We saw a "teal wave" in numerous "blue ribbon" seats around the country and the Greens have picked up three seats in (what is now jokingly referred to as) "Greensland". The independents and some Greens demonstrated an almost forgotten style of campaigning, running successful and community-focused grassroots campaigns with the enthusiastic support of thousands of local volunteers. They emphasised community engagement - in stark contrast to the major parties - and this resonated with many in "safe" electorates previously taken for granted. This signals a more engaging, inclusive style of politics and should remind the major parties of the power of the people.
Even though Albanese has secured a majority government, it is slim and a good rapport with the crossbench will be beneficial. The Senate looks more precarious, with the ALP holding 26 seats but needing 39 to hold the balance of power. To pass any legislation, they will need the support of The Greens, who look likely to secure 12 seats, and independent senator and climate activist David Pocock. This will require a different style of governing. Gone are the days of the bulldozing and head-kicking of former Liberal prime ministers Morrison and Tony Abbott. Albanese must cultivate leadership traits stereotypically considered "feminine": collaboration, mediation, communication, and negotiation, notably embodied by former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard and New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern. This will not only foster a less combative, adversarial, and hyper-masculine arena, but is also just good governance. After all, Gillard's minority government was the most productive in Australia's history. And Albanese - who, as Leader of the House in the Gillard era, was a key coalition-builder and a solid negotiator - is certainly up to the job.
I am also optimistic that the 47th Parliament will be less toxic than its predecessors. The red, green, and teal waves have eroded the previously impervious "boys' club" by taking out many of its members and replacing them with progressive and diverse candidates on a mission to make Parliament a safer and more respectful workplace. The Set The Standard report, led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, identified that gender inequality and a lack of diversity in Parliament were drivers of bullying, sexual harassment and assault, and consequently recommended increasing the number of women, LGBTQIA+, disabled and First Nations parliamentarians and staffers. This election has brought us one step closer to achieving these aims.
The overwhelming message of the 2022 federal election has been that we cannot ignore, undermine, or underestimate women. The Morrison government failed to heed the calls of women angered by a government of bulldozers in hard hats and tired of a system geared against us. This cost them the election and any chance of governing for the foreseeable future. The age of the entitled, "born-to-rule" white man is over - let a new age begin. We will be all the better for it.
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